Interview with Pastor, Professor and Author of God without Religion: Andrew Farley
Leonard Sweet called Andrew Farley, “one of the best young writers yet most mature thinkers in the church today.” Andrew Farley is the bestselling author of The Naked Gospel and lead teaching pastor of Ecclesia, a growing church on the high plains of west Texas. Andrew co-hosts “Real Life in Christ”, a thought-provoking TV program that airs every Wednesday morning on ABC-TV in west Texas and New Mexico. To watch or listen to some of Andrew’s teaching, visit: www.ChurchWithoutReligion.com
Farley’s latest work, God without Religion: Can It Really be this Simple? is one of the more challenging, enjoyable, and well-timed books I have read in the past year. The author’s experience as a Christian was first characterized by self-effort as he tried to please God at any cost. His ruthless religion resulted in spiritual burnout and disillusionment with church. Only then did he discover what relaxing in Jesus means and how enjoying God’s intimate presence can transform everyday life.
Farleycarefully and meticulously demonstrates how religion robs us of the true life of freedom that Jesus calls us into, “We’re used to thinking we need religion to keep us on the straight and narrow. Even when we buy into the simplicity of “Jesus plus nothing” for salvation, we might try to make Jesus fit alongside some religion for the long haul.”His writing constitutes arefreshing, honest look at “religion” that we could all stand to read…
The book begins with a humorous narrative of porch visits from a dubious stranger after Farley’s family’s home had been robbed, which he uses as an effective analogy for how we relate to God.Through-out his writing, Farley employs culturally relevant stories and icons (like Tiger Woods and Wayne Gretzky) to make his theological points clear and understandable. I found his comparisons of “predestination” to the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding particularly effective (and funny). Farley conversationally articulates his plea for a life without religion in an entertaining and accessible way.
I recommend that you pick up a copy of God without Religion and read Farley’s thoughtful argument for a life of freedom.(Click on the book cover to purchase the book from Amazon)
I really enjoyed this week’s “Five Good Answers” with author, professor and pastor, Andrew Farley. I think you will too…
Matt: We hear a lot about “dying to self” and “living radical” these days. Although these concepts sounds really spiritual, are they truly Biblical?
Andrew: The phrase “die to self” is nowhere to be found in the Scripture. The closest thing we find is that “our old self was crucified” (Rom. 6:6). It’s happened. We are new creations. So instead of a Weekend at Bernie’s theology — us dragging the old self alongside us — we are called to believe that we have been made new at the core. The battle is not against ourselves, the “good me” versus the “bad me.” Instead, we’re told to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. We count it as true, because it is true.
Whenever I hear someone say, “we’ve gotta get out of the way and let go, let God” so that it can be “all of Him and none of us”, it makes me sad. This person believes that they’re dirty and distant. They think they’re an obstacle to God.
God doesn’t want to replace us (He already has!). Now, He wants to embrace us, and inhabit all that He has made us to be. He has recreated us for good works, and we are compatible with Him. We are raised and seated with Christ. We are one spirit with Him. We are united with Him.
So it’s not all of Him and none of me. It’s me joined together with Christ, one spirit with Him (1 Cor. 6:17). Once I realize my cleanness and my closeness to Jesus, everything flows from there. I’m not supposed to “die to self” or try to get rid of me or scrape off a part of me. I’ve already been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20). Interestingly, crucifixion is one of those rare deaths you can’t really carry out yourself. You nail one hand up, then what?
No, I’m not supposed to slowly kill off any part of me. I’m supposed to remain in the midst of it all. God has accepted us and allowed us to participate in His divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). Now, that’s a message we can celebrate!
Matt: What does it mean to view Jesus’ death as the “dividing line of human history”?
Andrew: If we open our Bibles to Matthew 1 and then flip back one page, we find “THE NEW TESTAMENT” written in big block letters. But that’s not really when the New Testament era began. Hebrews 9:16-17 tells us that a covenant does not go into effect until there has been a death. The point is that it’s the death of Christ (not his birth) that ushered in the new covenant. Galatians 4:4 informs us that Jesus was “born under law” and refers to his audience as “those under law.” Clearly, it’s the death of Christ that changes everything.
So the New Testament era did not begin on any page in any book. It began on a day in history when Jesus was crucified. This certainly helps us understand the twofold ministry of Jesus. His 33 years on planet Earth consisted of (1) burying people under the hopelessness of the law and (2) prophesying about a new way to come.
This first aspect of His ministry was not your friendly, neighborhood Jesus. This was the Lord with a sword. He told them to cut off their hand, pluck out their eyes, be perfect just like God, and sell everything. Ouch! And what was the reaction he received? The rich man went away sad. The Pharisees went away mad. Mission accomplished.
What was that mission? To show that apart from Him they could do nothing. He exposed the true standard of the law and painted everyone into a corner so they’d see that law was not the way. This was Jesus’ first ministry. In contrast, His second ministry involved teaching about love, light, the vine and the branches, and prophesying about “the new covenant in My blood.” This new covenant did not go into force until his death, and we see the first evidence of it at Pentecost.
This dividing line of the cross is really important to realize. It helps us understand the harsh teachings of Jesus and put them in proper context. Then we can see what His intentions were. But if we just hang “be perfect” from our rearview mirror and memorize it on the way to work, trying our best to accomplish it, then we’ve missed the point. Under God’s new way, we Christians have been made perfect forever by Christ’s one offering (Heb. 10:14). Perfect righteousness is given to us as a gift.
Putting our new covenant glasses on as we read the words of Jesus (as well as the Old Testament law) really gives us perspective. We can call ourselves “red letter Christians” all day long. But at the end of the day, we’ve retained our eyes, our limbs, and our possessions. Those teachings of Jesus are not just difficult; they’re impossible! And that’s exactly what Jesus wants us to see. Then and only then do we see our need for the grace found in God’s new covenant.
Matt: What are your thoughts on the widespread resurgence of Calvinism among younger Christians today?
Andrew: Fate and free will. Plato and Socrates. Calvin and Arminius. We humans have been engaged in this philosophical debate for thousands of years. But more recently we’ve put a Jesus stamp on it. One church believes God chose each of us for salvation. Another church down the street believes they each chose God. So we split over this?
Is this what the apostle Paul intended for the church when he penned the word “predestined” a mere four times? The term never appears in any epistle written to Jews. Why not? Because they already knew they were predestined as a nation. The news flash was that Gentiles (those dirty Greeks!) were also predestined for the gospel. God was calling a people who were not His people (Rom. 9:25). God was calling the Gentiles to the table. God’s predestined plan was even prophesied about in the Old Testament as Abraham was told that he’d be the father of many nations, not just Israel.
In one section of the book, I talk about “God’s Big Fat Greek Wedding.” In my opinion, the whole predestination-free will debate in its current form has become a bottomless pit of intellectual speculations. But once we see that Paul is writing to Gentiles (Romans and Ephesians) to tell them that they were once excluded and now they’re included, then God’s sovereign choice no longer has to seen as individual selection — God picking some for Heaven and leaving some for Hell. Instead, it’s about people groups — God originally chose the Jews and now He’s including the Gentiles (collectively) too.
Paul wrote Ephesians to a “you” plural, to thousands of readers. He writes, “you also were included in Christ” (Eph 1:13). The news flash was that, while those dirty Gentiles (most of us) used to be ostracized, it was God’s predestined plan to call “you who are Gentiles” (Eph. 2:11) to the table.
“God Without Religion” thoroughly examines the relevant passages in Ephesians and Romans to show how simple understanding predestination can really be. And, in my view, the whole idea of individual selection by God just falls to pieces once we realize the Jew-Gentile context of all that Paul is really saying.
Matt: You address the issue of a required tithe of 10% versus free will “grace giving.” What are your thoughts on this touchy subject?
Andrew: There are zero instructions to tithe in the New Testament letters. Not once does Peter or James or John or Paul tell us to give 10%. And Jesus only mentions tithing four times in the gospels, and each time he does so to chastise the Pharisees for their pride. They were beating their chests about how much money they were giving, while they were neglecting weightier matters in the Law. Jesus only mentions tithing in order to point out the Pharisees’ hypocrisy.
From Matthew to Revelation, you won’t find any instruction for us to tithe 10% today, on this side of the cross. It’s just not a new covenant concept. And we shouldn’t handpick tithing, which actually totaled about 23% when you factor everything in, from the Jewish law.
We are dead to the law (Rom. 7:4; Gal. 2:19). We are not under the law (Rom. 6:14). We are not supervised by the law (Gal 3:25). We don’t serve in the old way of the law (Rom. 7:6). And Christ is the end of the law for those of us who believe (Rom 10:4). That’s how the Scriptures put it.
The one and only time the word “tithe” even appears in the New Testament is to tell an Old Testament story. Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils of war to a mysterious priest, Melchizedek. Some people argue that we should still tithe 10% today by claiming that we should imitate Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek. Well, Abraham killed people. Then he stole their belongings. Then he gave a tenth of his spoils of war to this mysterious priest. This was a common Middle Eastern battle tradition, not an obligatory religious move. So is Abraham’s tenth really the model to follow? Should we go to war, steal people’s stuff, and throw a tenth on the church lawn?
Hardly. No, the reason the writer of Hebrews recounts this story is to show Abraham’s reverence for a mysterious (non-Levitical) priest. The lesser gave to the greater — that’s the point. The writer of Hebrews points out that there was a priesthood that preceded the Levites and was greater than them. And Melchizedek’s priesthood was a foreshadowing of Christ, even recognized by Abraham. Hebrews plainly concludes this, and that’s why the story is told. There’s no instruction to tithe in Hebrews, nor anywhere in the New Testament.
Still, there’s a “3-Month Tithing Challenge” going around churches today. Churches will quote Malachi 3 saying you’ll be blessed if you give ten percent. And they say you’ll be blessed within 3 months, or you get your money back. Now, who wants to be the guy that has to approach the church staff and say that they want their money back? You know what’s coming next: “well, brother, you just need more faith” or “you were blessed, but you just need to open your eyes to God’s blessings — they are all around you!” Haha. Nobody wants to be the guy that lacked faith or was blind to blessings, so the “3-Month Tithing Challenge” ends up being a real winner for churches.
But what gives us the idea that we can put a time limit on God’s blessing? And where do we get the idea that we pump the quarters into the Divine Slot Machine, pull down the faith handle, and out comes the blessing? Is this how God operates, no differently from a mindless machine?
The reality is that when we quote from Malachi 3, it’s old covenant. And I’ve noticed that these same teachers love to quote the “blessing” part, but they leave out the part about being cursed if you don’t tithe. After all, it’s not very politically correct to threaten people with a curse if they won’t fork over ten percent of their income, so the curses part of Malachi 3 gets left out of the appeal.
The bottom line is that the New Testament tells us to give freely from the heart, not under pressure. It tells us to give in accordance with what we have and to give when we want to meet a need (see 2 Corinthians 8:14 and 9:7). That’s the new way of grace in action.
And it works. At our church, for example, we’ve made budget every year, even as we are very clear on the freedom of grace giving. People get excited about the gospel, and they want to give. In fact, I’ve found that when people grow up with the ten-percent mentality, some just give up on the whole idea of giving. They think, “Well, if it’s not ten percent, then it doesn’t count.” But grace giving esteems any gift, even the single coin that the lady gave in the Gospels. Jesus esteemed her. Now, that’s the gospel!
Matt: Why do you say that many churches are handling the Lord’s Supper wrongly with a sin-focus rather than a Jesus-focus?
Andrew: The lights go dim. Some bend over with their head in their hands. Others weep. Still others go through an introspective, confession ritual. When we feel that we’ve properly examined ourselves, then we believe we “qualify” to go forward and receive the elements.
We get this idea from one passage in 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul instructed them to “let a man examine himself” in order to “eat and drink in a worthy manner.” But what we can lose sight of is the fact that they were getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper. And they were eating up all the food. The poor people would show up, and there’d be none left. This caused all kinds of divisions and judgment among them. They were judging each other, and some of them were getting so wasted that they were passing out, getting sick, and maybe even dying of alcoholism — a sad scene in the early church.
But this can’t happen in most churches today. We ingest a shot glass of juice and a morsel of bread, while they were eating a full meal together. So when Paul told them to examine themselves to make sure they were eating and drinking in the right way, he was referring to their drunkenness and gluttony.
The Lord’s Supper is supposed to be a celebration, not a Sinfest. We aren’t called to examine our recent track record. We are called to examine the work of Jesus Christ. We aren’t called to introspect and try to qualify to take the elements. We are called to inspect His finished work and realize that He has qualified us. That’s communion without religion!
In “God without Religion”, I am highlighting things like these with the hope that we as the body of Christ might abandon our man-made religious notions and return to the early church focus on “Jesus plus nothing.” In so doing, we discover the simple truths of God’s new covenant message that sets us free!
Next week’s edition of “Friday’s Five Good Answers” will feature a college friend of mine who is a popular author (and professor of theology) to talk about his new book Third Way Allegiance — the good Dr. Tripp York.
I hope you will enjoy next week’s guest blogger as well. For years, I have enjoyed the wonderful letters he pens each week to his church. Chet Bush, a pastor and future author from Mississippi, will be writing next Monday and Tuesday here on the blog.